2020science.org
It's life Craig, but not as we know it! - 2020 Science
Typical. One of the most anticipated technological breakthroughs in years hits the streets, and I’m completely off the web – holed up in an Italian hotel with no internet and no phone. I’m talking of course about J. Craig Venter’s team’s breakthrough in synthesizing a living organism, almost from scratch – published in the journal Science on Thursday and speculated on by everyone from Nobel laureates to Vatican officials since… Having followed synthetic biology for some time, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the announcement that Venter has finally created a synthetic organism. So I was more than a little frustrated to miss the first wave of commentaries on this week’s paper. And coming late to the game, I now find that “Venter Fatigue” is already setting in – making writing a blog that someone wants to read all the harder. But there are issues and ideas that I think are still worth exploring here. So this is what I’m going to do: For today, I thought I would recycle some stuff I wrote on what might be called “digital biology” last year – the potentially disruptive concept underlying synthetic biology that could well herald a new era of how we control the world we live in. Then, when I’ve had a bit more time to marshal my thoughts, I’ll aim to write something about risks and ethics – and especially the need to place discussions on a science basis, and not get over-distracted by ethical hand-wringing. But back to “digital biology.” Last June, I wrote a piece about how our increasing control over matter at the nanoscale is transforming our ability to bend the world to our own ends. This is what I said about advances in manipulating DNA: “Thirty years ago, the notion of controlling the code of life itself